One Candle

One Candle

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This week, I turned 39. I have always found birthdays pretty odd – arbitrarily celebrating days because of a particular orbit of a particular planet around a particular star. In relation to everything else that’s happening in the universe, it is a pretty odd phenomenon, to be honest. As someone who tries to have a great day every day and celebrates life as often as possible, I find the concept of waiting once a year for enjoyment quite odd, too.

Society is both obsessed and governed by age. In my community, you get to vote at 16. To do GCSE exams at 16. To drive at 17. To do A-Level exams at 18. To drink at 18. To go to university at 18. To be middle-aged at 45. To be old-aged at 65. To retire at 65.

The real trouble with our obsession with age is that it is very limiting. Young people can’t do x and old people can’t do y because of their age.

The significance we place on the passage of time is actually driving some of us to old age. It is stopping some of us from feeling young. In some cases, it is limiting our children and restricting us as adults.

As someone working on a school project to teach 8-12 year olds to change the world, I have an unwavering belief that we are massively limiting our children in our current education systems and our world-view. Kids are capable of doing extraordinary things – for example, a 14 year old developing an early test for pancreatic cancer, 16 year old nuclear physicists, 17 year old bio-fuel researchers and 10 years old computer programmers.

We live in an era in which a 100 year old has run a marathon; in which people are saying that 70 is the new 50. Day by day, outliers are challenging what age means – and this will continue in ever-increasing instances.

In 50 years’ time, there will be 150 year olds in better health than I am  now. There will be 10 year olds tackling problems with solutions that are inconceivable to us now. I ask: if it can happen then, why can’t it happen now?

My real concern is the impact of societal norms of age on our perception of what’s possible. I will give you two examples to highlight the impact, but recognise there are many many more.

For example, a number of research studies have shown that retirement is actually bad for your health. A 2013 report (London’s Institute of Economic Affairs) discovered that retirement increased depression by 40%, and increased the likelihood of people having one or more diagnosed physical ailments by 60% (taking into account a control for normal age-related conditions). What if society’s expectation that people give up work in their 60s has a physical effect upon those who retire? What if the lack of stimulation or purposeful work means that people feel useless, and become ill? What if people literally give up the ghost, because society says they should retire?

With a life expectancy of 80 years or more in so many countries today – a whole decade longer than in 1960, there’s less reason to retire at 65, and more reason to live life to the full. Would life expectancy go up if the retirement age was eliminated altogether?

In sport and education, a percentage of people succeed in the system purely because of when their birthday falls. ‘Relative age effect’ is a bias in elite youth sport and education, in which participation and success is greater amongst those born early in the selection period (such as the sporting season or the academic year) – and lower for those born late in the period. Summer babies are traditionally less advanced, less able and more immature than their older peers – but phased school starting means that some of their cohort have had almost three terms’ extra education. What if education rolled on regardless, and children started whenever they were ready? What if we taught people by stages, instead of by ages?

Personally, I think we have to take age out of the equation as much as we can and move towards meritocracy as far as possible. Therefore –

  • Why can’t 10 year olds be learning beside 90 year olds?
  • Why, if someone can drive safely at 15, shouldn’t they be allowed to drive?
  • Why, if 12 year olds consume public services, can’t they vote?

Why? Why? Why? I love to keep asking that question, and with regard to age, it is definitely worth asking.

One of the best approaches to age I’ve come across is Jim Hardt’s, the incredible founder of Biocybernaut Institute. He refuses to think about the age he is on his birthday, and insists on lighting only one candle on his birthday cake. He says that one candle signifies the first year of the rest of his life. It is an opportunity for rebirth, rather than regression. This is no surprise, because the world-leading technology he works on actually helps people to reduce their brain age. Yes ,that does mean that a 50 year old can now have the brain of a 30 year old…

I am all for this wonderful planet spinning around our incredible sun. But it should have no part in defining who we are and what we can do. The sooner we let go of counting years and instead, focus on the infinite opportunities, the better it will be for everyone.

Age really is just a number – and it is becoming increasingly irrelevant every day. In order to thrive, we need to consider letting go of it.

Refuse to allow age to limit what we can do.

To the one candle I had on my cake this year – and every year to come.

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  1. As a sixty year old I have just gone through the ‘I’m too old to do that’, phase and have decided that this is the perfect time to start new income streams and to get fitter for greater physical challenges. As my birthday is just coming up, to add another number, I love the idea of ‘one candle’. Thank you.

  2. I agree that we limit the ability for our younger humans to thrive, find their passion, explore and invent with our restrictive school systems. We need more people like YOU posing the “why” question. And, maybe more important – “why not”!

  3. I totally agree

  4. Happy birthday Marc! Awesome points raised! It’s really frustrating to know that you can’t do the things you are capable of because age requirement forbids you to do so. When I was 21, my job applications abroad have always been denied because they did not consider me qualified until I’m over 25.

    In the BPO industry where I am now, people are accepted to work regardless if you are past 40 or younger. So I think that’s changing the game.

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